Moscow (AFP) – A senior Russian official warned on Saturday that Moscow could respond to Western sanctions by choosing not to take part in the latest nuclear arms deal with the United States, cutting diplomatic ties with Western countries and freezing their assets, as Russia’s ties with the West decline. . its lowest level on its invasion of Ukraine.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, also warned that Moscow could bring back the death penalty after Russia was excluded from Europe’s largest rights group – a chilling statement that shocked human rights activists in a country that did not. They were sentenced to death for a quarter of a century.
Sanctions imposed tough new restrictions on Russia’s financial operations, imposed a strict ban on technology exports to Russia, and froze the assets of Putin and his foreign minister, a harsh response that dwarfed Western restrictions. Washington and its allies say tougher sanctions are possible, including the expulsion of Russia from SWIFT, the system that dominates global financial transactions.
In sarcastic comments posted on a Russian social platform, Medvedev dismissed the sanctions as a display of Western “political impotence” that would only solidify the Russian leadership and provoke anti-Western sentiment.
He said, mocking the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies as an attempt to justify their previous “shameful” decisions, such as the cowardly withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Medvedev was vice president in 2008-2012 when Putin was forced to switch to the prime minister’s seat due to presidential term limitations. He then let Putin regain the presidency and served as his prime minister for eight years.
During his presidency, Medvedev was widely seen as more liberal than Putin, but on Saturday he made a series of threats that even the most hawkish figure in the Kremlin has yet to mention.
Medvedev noted that the sanctions provide the Kremlin with a pretext for a full review of its relations with the West, suggesting that Russia could withdraw from the New START treaty limiting nuclear arms that limits US and Russian nuclear arsenals.
The treaty, which Medvedev signed in 2010 with then-US President Barack Obama, limited each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missile and launchers, and envisages extensive on-site inspections to verify compliance. The agreement, the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement between the United States and Russia, was due to expire in February 2021 but Moscow and Washington extended it for another five years.
If Russia chooses to withdraw from the agreement now, it will remove any controls on US and Russian nuclear forces and raise new threats to global security.
Medvedev also raised the possibility of severing diplomatic relations with Western countries, accusing that “there is no special need to maintain diplomatic relations” and adding that “we may look at each other through binoculars and rifles.”
Referring to Western threats to freeze the assets of Russian companies and individuals, Medvedev warned that Moscow would not hesitate to do the same.
“We will need to respond in kind by freezing the assets of foreigners and foreign companies in Russia … and possibly nationalizing the assets of those who come from unfriendly jurisdictions,” he said. “The most interesting things are only starting now.”
Commenting on Friday’s move by the Council of Europe to suspend Russia’s representation in Europe’s leading human rights organization, Medvedev disdainfully described it as one of the “nursing homes” that Russia had mistakenly joined.
He added that it provides a “good opportunity” to restore the death penalty for serious crimes, noting that the United States and China have never stopped using it.
Moscow has maintained a moratorium on the death penalty since August 1996 as part of the commitments it accepted when it joined the Council of Europe. Medvedev’s statement terrified human rights activists in Russia who have warned that the prospect of reintroducing the death penalty is particularly ominous in Russia because of its flawed justice system.
Eva Merkacheva, a member of the Kremlin’s Human Rights Council, denounced it as a “disaster” and “a return to the Middle Ages”.
“Given the very low quality of the criminal investigation, anyone can be convicted and executed,” she said. “To say I’m terrified is to say nothing.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked a series of anti-war protests in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and other cities across Russia, which were quickly dispersed by police and hundreds arrested.
As part of efforts to stifle dissenting voices, Russia’s state communications watchdog has issued notices to major independent media, warning that it will face shutdown if it continues to distribute information about fighting that deviates from the official line.
On Friday, the agency also announced “partial restrictions” on access to Facebook in response to the platform restricting the accounts of several Kremlin-backed media outlets. It did not say exactly what its restrictions entailed.